Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Brown vs. Craig in Toronto, ON

Craig leads with his usual arguments, each of which ought to be readily rebuttable: 

  1. Cosmological argument from a cosmic first cause
  2. Teleological argument from universal fine-tuning
  3. Objective moral values cannot exist apart from God
  4. Jesus lives!  (empty tomb / post-mortem appearances / Xn belief)
  5. Altar call / subjective experiences

The first two arguments basically fall back on the following dichotomy, either the universe came to be the way it is because of (a) natural processes we do not fully understand or (b) some sort of immaterial non-spatiotemporal über-mind.  Craig puts forth nothing even resembling a valid argument which ought to lead a rational person to prefer the latter option over the former, but instead relies on a bit of hand-waving and an inherent human bias in favor of explanations rooted in agency rather than more difficult natural explanations (the details of which may or may not be forthcoming).  It blows my mind that Craig keeps getting away with this spouting this sort of question-begging poppycock from an academic pulpit, but there it is.

Craig’s third argument is just pointless, since “objective moral values” is a wholly nonsensical idea.  Values are by definition subjective, even if they happen to exist in the mind of a Cartesian evil demon or any other sort of bodiless spirit (only hardcore Platonists can even hope to contend otherwise).  Moreover, divine moral values are no good unless they are good values.  What good would it do the human race if the divine values permit slavery and genocide?

Craig’s fourth argument more-or-less assumes the reliability of the gospel narratives, an approach which only has persuasive force to someone who is already a Christian.  Few people believe that other people’s scriptures are anything other than myths, and this is just as it should be, since they usually contain all manner of fabulous stories which are completely unattested outside of their particular faith tradition.

Brown wastes a fair bit of time talking about classical arguments for and against God, before getting around to the problem of evil and a few moral conundrums related to theistic morality.  On rebuttal, Craig manages to make mincemeat of these, since Brown failed to start in on a properly evidential argument (at least not until his closing statement). He also wastes a bit of time on the nature of faith, again, because he fails to make a positive argument in favor of metaphysical naturalism.  This is a serious shortcoming, since merely pointing out that faith is not an argument is not an argument in itself.  If there are some people in the audience who could be convinced by the sorts of the arguments presented in a debate, they are surely not fideists.  Finally, Brown grants the existence of objective moral truths, at which point he may well have delivered his flag to Craig’s camp.  Considering the inherent weakness of the arguments from objective morality, this should be considered a gratuitous bit of self-harm on Brown’s part.

On rebuttal and on cross, these guys mix it up and both demonstrate a high-level of familiarity with various subjects while managing to cast substantive doubt upon almost all of the affirmative arguments which were given during the opening statements.  Brown, to his credit, manages to point out a number of the major problems with Craig’s arguments, though he does so a bit confusingly at times.  Brown makes up a good deal of ground after the opening statements, but never quite catches up.  It seems to me that Brown could have had Craig pinned and writing if they had been given another hour for cross-ex.  Alas…

Altogether, this is one of the better debates because of its high level of substantive interchange.  Definitely worth a listen.

  •           Unbeliever rating: 4.25 stars
  •           Believer rating: 4.75 stars
  •           Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Date: 27-Jan-2009

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

:D haha a Cartesian Evil Demon!!!